Every year I look forward to the beginning of the college football season, especially this year with my Ohio State Buckeyes winning the national championship game over Miami. (Yes, Chris Gamble got held at the line.) Anyways, it’s also around this time that EA Sports releases another NCAA Football
game. So let’s take their latest version through the ropes and see if it’s worthy of the Circuit City crystal football.
So NCAA Football 2004
is back with more teams, more plays, and more features. If the amount of teams wasn’t enough in last year’s game, another 160+ teams have been added to this year’s version. Most of the additions come from classic teams and you can see how the old terrors of the college gridiron fair against the modern day warriors.
Another new feature this year is the ability to play a college classic game. There are 20 games that you can replay and rewrite history. Succeeding will allow you to unlock both teams of that game to play with. There are 20 good games for you to replay and EA tries it’s best to make it as accurate as possible putting you in the situation that was the turning point in the game. For example, in the Fiesta Bowl between Miami and Ohio State, the game starts out with three seconds left and Miami lined up to go for the tying field goal. You’ll play as Miami and you can either stick with the play and go into overtime or try to get it into the end zone to end it in regulation. It’s not totally accurate as it still has Willis McGahee in the backfield when he was taken out eleven minutes before that. You can also relive Doug Flutie’s try for the end zone against Miami. It’s pretty fun to try and rewrite history but I did find it annoying that I had to completely end the game and reselect it if I failed. It does take a little time to get back into the game and I would’ve rather have had the ability to restart the scenario.
In the previous versions, you had to wait until the 8th week to see who was in the running for the Heismann trophy. Now each week of the season creates an issue of Sports Illustrated with several pages of quick blurbs on a hot topic of the week. There’s a section that lists the favorites for the Heismann and arrows that signify if the player is rising, falling, or hanging steady. Each issue's cover is archived for you to lookat again. I must say it’s pretty cool to see a big upset on the cover of that week’s issue.
School records are now available for you to break. Each school has various categories with the number of the player and year the record was achieved. You can put your name in the record books if you are able to have a career game or year and break the records. A nice touch I found was on my fourth sack with one of my Ohio State outside linebacker, one of the announcers said that I needed one more sack to tie the record.
One of my major complaints of the Xbox version of NCAA Football 2003
was that the Y button called the right most play and the B button took you back a step in the play calling screen. Thankfully, EA fixed this and it’s now correct with the B button calling the right most play and the Y button going back. Another great control change is the left trigger now delivers a stiff arm instead of lateraling the ball. Being that I’d do a lot more stiff arming than tossing the ball, I’m glad that EA switched the buttons handling the functions. The fact that the sprint button is still switched between offense and defense remains a little annoying though.
The graphics doesn’t have any major upgrades to it from what I could see. Although the players do look like they have a minor improvement in shape, it could also be my imagination. More animations do make the players look more realistic though. New animations include different tackles, receivers turning their heads to look for the ball, and defenders shoving players out of bounds. Introductions have been improved for a few teams. Ohio State players run out of the tunnel now just like in real life. If you’re a Notre Dame fan, you’ll see them smack that famous, "Play like a champion today" sign before they hit the field. Slow downs don’t seem to happen as frequently this year. On the Xbox version, I only really saw slow downs during the entrances of the players. Other than that, even with all the player animations during the action, the game ran pretty smooth throughout.
A great deal of new plays has been added to the playbook giving you more to operate with. No playmaker feature yet but there are a number of trick plays added that should add some excitement to the game.
For offense, the passing game seems to have upped in difficulty with receivers having a lot more dropped passes this time around. I didn’t experience nearly this many dropped passes in the last version and while I did want more I think NCAA Football 2004
has too many. The defensive backs seem to have better hands when the picks are difficult. If you try and pass like you did in the previous version, you’ll find the opposition with the ball a lot more. Many of the passing plays that produced in the previous version is now defended a lot better. And if you’re foolish enough to loft it into coverage you can bet it’s going to be picked off. In the previous version, I was never afraid to throw it on the run into some traffic. Now, it usually results in an interception so throwing it away is a lot more important in this year’s version.
On the flip side, I seem to be getting a lot more sacks with my outside linebackers than in the previous version. In turn I seem to also be sacked more because of the quickness the outside linebackers get to me now. You really don’t have the luxury of sitting back in the pocket as long this time around. With the quick convergence of the outside linebackers, you’ll have to learn to read the coverage quicker and make smart passes. In last year’s version when I forced a fumble on a quarterback sack, the game never registered it as a sack. I’m glad to say that it is now fixed so you are credited with the sack when you force a fumble.
When playing against a human, play action fakes were usually ineffective as the camera would follow the ball. In NCAA Football 2004
, the camera follows the running back for a little bit and it’s very effective in faking you out if you are not paying attention. The running back will even have an icon at its feet to fake having the ball. I’ve been caught a few times with the computer calling a play action fake and having my attention latched onto the running back before realizing that the QB still had the ball and was passing to an open receiver. It’s a feature that’s a long time coming in football and really helps gameplay with those types of plays.
If you’re like my neighbor who spends an ungodly amount of hours playing this or any EA Sports game, you should be rewarded. EA Sports Bio is a new feature that keeps track of your time spent playing and accomplishments. As you play more or play other EA sports titles, you’ll unlock rewards. The bio screen is probably not one you want to show to your parents or girlfriend if you’re spending too much time on this game.
Unfortunately, you’ll need the Playstation 2 version if you want online play. EA hasn’t agreed on Microsoft’s implementation of Xbox Live so the feature is omitted from this year. It’s certainly something I miss as I had hopes of playing friends over the Internet. Nevertheless, I hope the matter gets settled and next year we’ll see online play for the series. And hopefully you can run a dynasty online with multiple players. But with the Xbox version you do get the convenience of saving all the data on the hard drive. I don’t have to worry about space on a memory card as the abundant amount of space on the hard drive lets me save a good number of dynasties without worries.
It’s not an evolutionary step from last year’s to this year but there are a lot of tweaks and additions to an already good college football game. NCAA Football 2004
offers a fun college football experience that’s sure to be a hit with the college crowd. More teams, more options, more animations keep this franchise going. The Xbox version of NCAA Football 2004
, if you don’t want online play, gives you good graphics and the advantage of having a hard drive save all your data. It’s the best college football game out there for the console but the game wins that award by default based on no other competing product.
More On:NCAA Football 2004
It's got some nice fixes and some nice additions. You won't get online play but the harddrive makes saving game files easy and hassle free. The best and only college football game for the Xbox this year.